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Customer Review

on January 31, 2006
This edition is all right - reasonable level of annotation (most students would benefit from more), justifiable selection, fair show of critical essays; but it's a comedown from the 2nd ed. in every respect, or so it seems to me. The selection from "The Faerie Queene" cuts out Scudamour's relation of his experience in the mysterious Temple of Venus: absolutely essential for anyone reading Book III, which is printed entire in both eds. The pseudo-personal "Colin Clouts Come Home Againe" is a thin substitute, whatever its indications of "the teasing ambiguities of the patronage system" so dear to critics of the 1990s. With the new emphasis on politics rather than philosophy, the "Fowre Hymnes" have gone too; the editors are clearly aiming to reflect "recent critical attention" (their words), but the result somehow suggests that Spenser has become more predictable, less intellectually exciting, over the 10 years between the two editions (1982-1993). As for the choice of critical essays, some things have not been changed when they should have been (the tiny snippet on allegory from "The Kindly Flame" is far too brief to be helpful); on the other hand, the excision of C.S. Lewis's account of the House of Busyrane is simply perverse. Lewis is the critical starting point for this, and later work depends (whatever its attitude) on him.

Obviously a new edition must struggle over the demands of space, but it must also keep in mind the nature of its readership. Who will use this? Not a professional Renaissance scholar, who will own a complete text. So, students, or interested readers, who don't already own the previous edition, and have not necessarily internalized a long tradition of Spenser scholarship. This imposes a serious responsibility on the editors to choose not just fashionably but judiciously. And to limit the bibliography to work published since 1972 (just over 20 years!) is not just injudicious but absurd. (The list for "Epithalamion" does not list Kent Hieatt's seminal study of its structure, to give just one egregious example.) Also, of course, this procedure limits the work's own reach into the future. This bibliography already looks out of date, as one with a broader chronology would not. The same goes for other elements, too: the editors of a fourth edition, on a similarly limited plan, would probably want less on power and more on gender - and thus, with luck, might reintroduce the Temple of Venus, dropped here.

Meanwhile, for the decisions here outlined, so damaging to the lasting value of the book, these editors deserve three stars.
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